Neville Gafà on Wednesday appeared before a board of inquiry looking into the circumstances leading to the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Mr Gafà is a close ally of former Office of the Prime Minister chief of staff Keith Schembri and enjoyed a professional career that was shrouded in mystery, until prime minister Robert Abela chose not to reappoint him to his OPM job last month.
He was due to testify on Monday, but his appearance was postponed due to time considerations.
As it happened
That's all for today
5.05pm The court session is over, and that brings this blog to an end. Thank you for joining us, we'll have an article summarising the day's testimonies available online shortly.
Who will testify next?
4.47pm The inquiry will continue on Friday, when Labour MP Glenn Bedingfield will testify.
The subsequent session will be on February 26 at 2pm, when Petra Caruana Dingli, Gloria Beacom and Andre Camilleri will testify.
On February 28, the inquiry will hold a session at 11am. Ray Barbara and Kenneth Camilleri will testify.
'Everyone passes the buck'
4.45pm Judge Said Pullicino intervenes.
“It seems Daphne Caruana Galizia caused trouble both before and after her death. The only thing we seem to be hearing is ‘it’s not my remit’. Everyone passes the buck. Perhaps it’s symptomatic of the nation”.
And with that, the Mr Gafà’s testimony is over.
The court is now setting out a schedule for future sessions.
'We talked about football'
4.41pm Gafà says he and Schembri would often talk about football – “he sides with Manchester United” – but not about work.
Dr Azzopardi asks whether the two discussed [Labour deputy leader] Chris Cardona.
“No, never,” he replies.
“Did Keith Schembri tell you that he called Yorgen Fenech every day?” asks Dr Azzopardi. “In recordings, Fenech says Schembri even called him at midnight”.
“I’m sorry that he [Fenech] is lying about him,” replies Gafà.
Gafà first says Schembri never spoke about the note found at Melvin Theuma’s house [which implicates Schembri in the Caruana Galizia murder], then says Schembri denied its contents.
Gafà on Yorgen Fenech
4.35pm Gafà says he knew that Schembri and Fenech were friends.
“He obviously told me that Yorgen Fenech had lied about him, and he was sorry about it,” he says.
Asked about Kenneth Camilleri, he says Camilleri was formerly with the security services, but had left by the time the two went to Libya in June.
He says that Camilleri never told him about the visit to Melvin Theuma’s home.
The witness says he had not asked Camilleri about the matter, which emerged in court.
“Respect our intelligence. Tell us the truth,” Jason Azzopardi tells the witness.
“I don’t ask questions about things that don’t concern me,” Gafà replies.
Dr Azzopardi presses on.
“Your friend is named in a homicide investigation, and you don’t ask him?”
“I never asked him,” Gafà insists.
Gafà on Schembri’s missing mobile
4.29pm The witness says he only knows that Keith Schembri lost his mobile.
Dr Azzopardi: “Did you know he was at Joseph Muscat’s house the night before?”
“Yes, I knew.”
Gafà says Schembri was upset about losing his phone.
“Then why didn’t he file a police report about it?” asks Dr Azzopardi.
Gafà's Libya trips
4.26pm Dr Azzopardi asks why Gafà was accompanied to Libya by Kenneth Camilleri.
“I wanted someone I trusted with me when I was there,” he says.
Dr Azzopardi probes a bit further about his Libya visits – “did you travel on a diplomatic passport? Did you visit the embassy?” – but is told off by the board of inquiry, who note that he’s going beyond the inquiry’s remit.
Gafà says he 'saved thousands of lives'
4.23pm Gafà is asked about his mysterious trips to Libya. During one of those trips, he had “bumped into” a militia leader. He tells the inquiry that his work “stopped thousands of migrants from arriving in Malta.”
“I coordinated between the Armed Forces and Libyan coast guard. We saved thousands of lives”.
Social media doghouse
4.19pm Judge Mallia wants to know whether anyone ever censured him for attacking a journalist, given that he was a public servant.
“I was a person of trust,” says Gafà. “And yes, my superiors did draw my attention to it”.
Gafà says he would often remove posts after being warned about them by Joseph Muscat or Keith Schembri.
Gafà asked about his government work
4.15pm Lawyer Jason Azzopardi is now asking the witness questions about his government work.
Gafà says his job at the FMS was given to him by [then Health Minister] Konrad Mizzi. He would later be transferred to Gozo, with the blessing of Chris Fearne, who succeeded Dr Mizzi as health minister.
“Since I live in Mellieħa, it was almost easier to go to work in Gozo than Gwardamangia,” he says.
Dr Azzopardi notes that Mr Fearne had fired him, and links that decision to questions concerning his trips to Libya.
“Minister Fearne knows that I presented invoices for medical issues,” Gafà replies. He says his work earned Mater Dei Hospital around €400,000 and more for St James Hospital.
'We never discussed 17 Black'
4.13pm Gafà says Keith Schembri was “hurt” by reports linking him to secret company 17 Black, but says that “as a friend, I did not press him about the issue”.
“I would go meet him early in the morning, go for a long walk and then go back home for a shower before work,” he says.
The two discussed his [Schembri’s resignation], he says, “but as friends”.
Dr Comodini Cachia asks whether the two discussed fuel smuggling.
“No,” Gafà says.
“Did you never discuss who did it [the murder]?”
On the Truth Project
4.08pm The witness is asked about the Truth Project and says he knows nothing of it.
He is shown Truth Project social media posts which he shared two years ago, and asked how that can be.
“I might not have been aware of the name,” he replies. “I can’t deny sharing it but I only got to know about it through the media recently,” he says.
Gafà on photos and social media posts
4.05pm Gafà claims he never discussed the Electrogas [power station] deal with Keith Schembri.
Lawyer Comodini Cachia circles back to photos of Ms Caruana Galizia. They highlight one of her with her niece and a dog, taken in 2017.
Mr Gafà again says he did not take the photos.
“But the minor said she saw you in the street that day,” Dr Comodini Cachia replies.
“I know I saw her in Republic Street, but I didn’t take those photos. I’m under oath here”.
The witness is asked about a post which likened Ms Caruana Galizia’s funeral to a carnival celebration.
“I didn’t write that. I wasn’t even in Malta at the time. I never said those words to anyone. I don’t remember if I perhaps shared it”.
'My father suffered a stroke because of Daphne'
4pm The board again wants to know why he published photos of Ms Caruana Galizia in her private life. What did he gain through that?
“Because she did that. My father even suffered a stroke three years ago because of her writing. I have two children, aged 23 and 25, who sometimes felt bad going to work because of what she wrote about me,” Mr Gafà explained.
On the murder
3.58pm Mr Gafà is asked whether he saw people rejoice in news of Caruana Galizia’s murder.
He says no. “Everyone was going about their work,” he tells the inquiry.
On 17 Black: “Everything I know, I learnt through the media.
On hospital privatisation: “I never had anything to do with that”
'I published because she did too'
3.55pm Gafà says he does not know anything about Castille briefings concerning the Caruana Galizia murder and never attended any.
He’s asked by judge Mallia about photos of Ms Caruana Galizia which he published one day before she was murdered.
“They were sent to me by people who happened to be in Floriana,” he says.
Why did he publish them, he’s asked.
“Because she did the same,” he says.
Keith Schembri and Daphne Caruana Galizia
3.52pm Gafà says Schembri was very hurt by what Caruana Galizia had written, “especially about his cancer”.
[Ms Caruana Galizia had written that Mr Schembri was terminally ill].
“His daughter once went home from school asking , ‘Is it true you’re going to die, daddy?’ That hurt him terribly. He didn’t retaliate but I took to writing a lot,” Gafà says.
Gafà says that Schembri was very upset by the Caruana Galizia murder and
“wanted to make sure that investigations were carried out well”.
Gafà and Muscat
3.49pm Gafà says he’s known Joseph Muscat since childhood. They went to the same school [St Aloysius].
“I know many people but have few friends,” he says.
Gafà in Libya with Kenneth Camilleri
3.47pm Gafà is asked whether he has a diplomatic passport. He confirms he has one and says it was given to him due to his work in Libya.
He says he visited Libya with Kenneth Camilleri, then adds “but I never went abroad with Keith Schembri. Never”.
Gafà in Gozo
3.45pm Mr Gafà tells the inquiry that after he was fired from the Health Ministry, he was sent to Gozo and set up an office in Xewkija. He would then be recalled to Castille, he says.
'She hurt me a lot'
3.44pm Mr Gafà is recalling his relationship with Ms Caruana Galizia.
“Her writing was much worse than the photos,” Mr Gafà testifies. “She hurt me a lot”.
He thinks back to the first time the two interacted. “It all started on a Sunday morning. I hung up on her because I didn’t know who she was. Then she sent me a text about medical visas”.
The witness says he did not confirm what she told him, but that she took that as a non-denial and “published a story about me in the Independent”.
Mr Gafà says he was interrogated at length by the police but clarifies that “there are no criminal proceedings in my regard”.
'I never took photos of Daphne'
3.40pm Gafà says he never took photos of Ms Caruana Galizia. “I found the photos online,” he says calmly.
Madam justice Lofaro is keen to know why he would repost the same photos over and over.
He says some of the photos were saved on Facebook. “I sometimes delete photos after six months or so,” he says.
Gafà on his Caruana Galizia posts
3.37pm Mr Gafà admits he posted a lot about Daphne Caruana Galizia, but notes that “she used to write a lot about me personally. She also put up photos of my family”.
“So you retaliated?” asks madam justice Lofaro.
“She started it,” the witness replies.
Gafà’s doctor is Adrian Vella
3.35pm Gafà confirms that Adrian Vella is his personal doctor.
[Dr Vella is also the doctor of Keith Schembri and Yorgen Fenech, and is alleged to have passed notes to Mr Fenech while he was in police custody].
Gafà says that he “never knew and never saw” Melvin Theuma.
“A lot of people come to Castille,” he says.
Gafà’s relationship with Schembri
3.32pm Mr Gafà tells the inquiry he first met Keith Schembri while working on the 2013 electoral campaign “and we remained friends ever since”.
“We live five minutes apart,” he says when madam justice Lofaro notes that they remain close, despite Mr Schembri’s resignation.
Answering questions, he says that he never saw Yorgen Fenech at Castille. He confirms that he knows Kenneth Camilleri – “he was part of the PM’s security” – but says he never spoke to him about the Caruana Galizia murder.
[Middleman Melvin Theuma has testified that Mr Camilleri paid him a visit at home once to discuss bail for the Caruana Galizia murder suspects].
What did Gafà do?
3.28pm Mr Gafà tells the inquiry that he started working as a projects director at the Foundation for Medical Services in 2013. He had started within the OPM and was transferred to the Health Ministry. He then worked as a person of trust within the OPM.
Madam Justice Lofaro wants to know what his job at the OPM entailed.
Mr Gafà says his job was “coordination” between the OPM and ministries. He worked on the second floor, “with the prime minister” [and chief of staff Keith Schembri].
“The prime minister would receive hundreds of emails every day and he would pass on the ones that needed actioning, so that I would coordinate with the health ministry,” he says.
Neville Gafà testifies
3.23pm Mr Gafà is summoned to the witness stand. He takes the oath.
"What is your job?" he's asked.
"I resigned on the 12th January," the witness replies.
Corinne Vella testifies
3.20pm Corinne Vella – one of Ms Caruana Galizia’s sisters – takes the witness stand. Last Monday, Ms Vella presented documents featuring what she says are screenshots and evidence of blog and social media posts published against her sister.
She has more documents with her today, featuring comments and social media posts uploaded by Neville Gafa’ or groups supporting Mr Gafa’.
Some of the posts were just photos of Daphne Caruana Galizia going about her daily life, with no comment.
She shows the inquiry one. "What's the purpose of that?" she asks.
Ms Vella says she has never met Mr Gafa' or spoken to him in real life.
Nigel Vella's testimony ends
3.19pm Mr Vella’s testimony is over – and it ends with another shouting match between the lawyers.
The judges intervene and restore order. “We see everything, we weren’t born yesterday,” they say.
'Isn't One the Labour Party?'
3.15pm Mr Vella is asked by Jason Azzopardi whether he used to write blog posts on behalf of the Labour Party.
“Didn’t you see a conflict of interest, writing for the Labour Party while working at Castille?”
Mr Vella says he wrote for [Labour media arm] One.
“Isn’t One the Labour Party?” Dr Azzopardi asks.
“I don’t think so,” the witness replies.
A row ensues.
Labour's fourth floor
3.10pm Answering a question, Mr Vella says he had an office inside the Labour Party’s fabled fourth floor. He worked on the party’s  electoral campaign.
He confirms, [as Speaker Anglu Farrugia had testified] that access to the floor was restricted. People needed a keycode to access it.
Judge Said Pullicino asks whether he recalls seeing anyone in particular on that floor.
Mr Vella says he does not – not even [MDA chief] Sandro Chetcuti. “Most of the time, my work was outside [the party headquarters],” he says.
Keith Schembri had an office on the floor because he was the electoral campaign manager, the witness says.
Orders from above?
3.05pm The inquiry moves on to other issues.
Dr Comodini Cachia asks how many DOI press releases which mentioned Ms Caruana Galizia by name passed through his hands before she was murdered.
Mr Vella says he does not know, but that he had only started working at the OPM in July 2017. [Ms Caruana Galizia was killed in October of that year].
The lawyer asks whether he discussed the content of press releases – about Ms Caruana Galizia, the FIAU, the Panama Papers - with Keith Schembri.
The witness replies that most of the time, content would be passed on to him by his superiors in point form.
Dr Comodini Cachia asks whether he would discuss contents of press releases with [then prime minister] Joseph Muscat.
Mr Vella says that he would occasionally be summoned by Dr Muscat and would receive direction from him. Sometimes, he would ask for direction from the PM after receiving certain questions from journalists, he says.
2.57pm Mr Vella identifies others, such as Nikhail Spiteri.
One of the judges wants to know why these people were allowed into the room.
“My job isn’t security,” he replies.
That earns him another reprimand.
“So it didn’t cross your mind to draw attention to their presence there,” the court asks. “If you saw somebody commit a murder, would just stand by and look on helplessly?”
“Nobody was committing a murder that day,” he replies.
“There was so much tension in the country, didn’t you think of the prime minister’s security? What if I told you that you knew all of them [in the room] and that’s why you did nothing?”
Mr Vella replies. “You’re the one suggesting that”.
Judge Said Pullicino interjects.
“We’re troubled by your lack of credibility,” he says.
Lawyers told off
2.52pm The lawyers are bickering, and Madam Justice Lofaro is threatening to boot them all out of the building.
2.50pm Madam Justice Lofaro again chastises the witness – “you’re being arrogant”, she tells him – and Mr Vella begins to name others he recognises.
There's a man named “Mark” and Lionel Gerada, who serves as the Malta Tourism Authority’s events director.
Credibility at stake
2.44pm Judge Said Pullicino warns the witness that his credibility is at stake.
“If we don’t believe you on this matter, we cannot believe you when it comes to other issues,” he tells Mr Vella.
Mr Vella is shown photos of that night at the OPM and asked to identify people he recognises.
He recognises one as "Joseph Scerri" and says he knows others by sight.
"Their names are obviously now public," he says.
[Mr Vella's superior, Matthew Carbone, named many of the people in the photos when he testified on Monday. The issue also cropped up in parliamentary debate on Tuesday].
'I happened to be there'
2.41pm Mr Vella is asked about the incident in late November when journalists were prevented from leaving a room at the OPM following a 3am press conference.
He insists “no journalists were kept against their will”.
“Could journalists leave if they wanted to?” madam justice Lofaro asks.
Mr Vella says he was standing outside the door at the time.
“You haven’t told us whether the journalists could leave,” madam justice Lofaro says.
“I’m not security,” Mr Vella says.
So why was he behind that door?
“I happened to be there!” the witness replies.
The judge is not impressed. "You haven't answered yes or no" she says.
'Then you know nothing'
2.37pm The inquiry board members are getting irritated.
“Why are you paid if you gave no input? How is it possible that you were between four walls, and you heard nothing?” asks Judge Mallia.
“If that is your work, just doing what your superiors pass on, any clerk could do it!”
Mr Vella says he can only speak of what he knows.
“Then you know nothing,” says Madam Justice Lofaro.
On what OPM workers made of the assassination
2.35pm Judge Said Pullicino wants to know about discussions within the OPM when Ms Caruana Galizia was assassinated. “Was there tension? Did anything change?”
“We discussed the event,” Mr Vella says.
The board of inquiry suggests the description is not an apt one.
“An assassination is not an 'event',” they tell the witness.
Mr Vella says that his job was to handle interview requests and that the administration’s attitude was “in the public domain”.
“We know what was in the public domain. We want to know what happened behind the scenes,” the inquiry members tell Mr Vella.
On 17 Black
2.31pm Mr Vella is asked about 17 Black. Had he discussed the matter with his superiors or at the office?
He says no, though he notes that he had testified in proceedings involving then- OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri.
“I only discussed what was necessary in the course of my work. It was all in the public domain”.
2.29pm Mr Vella is asked about the claim that the Caruana Galizia murder was linked to fuel smugglers. He says he knows nothing about discussion concerning that and that back in 2017 [when the link was first made] he was “only a spokesperson”.
He is asked whether he has heard of the Truth Project [an online campaign to discredit news published by international journalists forming part of the Daphne Project].
“I read about it this week in the Times,” he says. [Mr Vella’s superior Matthew Carbone was asked the same question during Monday’s inquiry session].
Mr Vella says he also did not know about the blog Taste Your Own Medicine.
Judge Mallia warns Mr Vella that he is under oath.
“What would you say if I told you that you shared several pieces from the Truth Project?” the judge asks.
“I’m not aware of that,” Mr Vella replies.
Visits to the 2nd floor
2.24pm Mr Vella says he cannot say just how many times he visits the second floor at the OPM [where the chief of staff’s office is].
“I go there when needed,” he says. “Every week is different”.
He confirms that he is employed as a person of trust and says that he is only involved in communications, not policy.
His job is more focused on events than the media directly, he says, although he says he meets journalists or editors as necessary.
'I never saw Yorgen Fenech'
2.21pm Mr Vella is asked if he ever saw Yorgen Fenech at Castille.
“I never saw him, there or anywhere,” Mr Vella replies.
[Mr Fenech stands accused of complicity in the Caruana Galizia murder. He has said that Keith Schembri, the OPM’s former chief of staff, was the true murder mastermind.]
Involvement in Caruana Galizia case
2.18pm Answering a question, Mr Vella says that he issues statements under the direction of his boss, Mr Carbone, although some he issues himself.
He says that he cannot recall any statements concerning the Caruana Galizia assassination which he was involved in.
Madam Justice Lofaro wants to know if he was involved in the press conference the PM had held on the day of the assassination. Mr Vella says he was not. At the time, his boss as head of communications was Kurt Farrugia.
What does Mr Vella do?
2.14pm Mr Vella is the deputy head of communications at the Office of the Prime Minister – effectively the no. 2 to Matthew Carbone, who testified on Monday.
He tells the court that he assumed his current post in August 2019 and has worked at the OPM since 2017. Prior to that, he was the Labour Party's director of communications.
"My job is to give out information that needs to be released; events, ministry announcements and so on," he tells the court.
Nigel Vella testifies
2.13pm Sure enough, Mr Vella will be testifying. He’s the first witness. Mr Vella is assisted by lawyer Charlon Gouder.
Who’s in court?
2.10pm Ms Caruana Galizia’s parents and sisters are in court, as is blogger Manuel Delia.
Lawyers Andrew Borg Cardona, Jason Azzopardi and Therese Comodini Cachia are here on behalf of the family.
State advocate Victoria Buttigieg, who first made an appearance on Monday, is back in court too.
2.05pm Mr Gafà is the day’s headline witness, but he might not be the only one.
Our photographer Matthew Mirabelli also spotted OPM official Nigel Vella walking into court a few minutes ago. Will he also be testifying?
A testimony postponed
2pm Mr Gafà was due to testify on Monday, together with current OPM officials Matthew Carbone and Josef Caruana.
But hearing those two testimonies – as well as briefer ones by Ms Caruana Galizia’s son Matthew and sister Corinne – took longer than expected, and led to
Mr Gafà’s testimony being put off to today.
Here’s a summary of what happened during Monday’s inquiry session. Keen to read about events in more detail? Read about the inquiry hearing as it happened.
1.55pm Welcome to this live blog, where we'll be providing you with minute-by-minute updates of events in the courtroom.
The Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry continues today, with Neville Gafà expected to testify. The court session is expected to begin at 2pm.
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